Insomnia, the latest of the many volumes of poetry John Kinsella has published, is one of his strongest collections of the past decade. Kinsella is an Australian poet, now in his late fifties, who is at once one of the most widely recognized figures in contemporary poetry yet still too little known in some literary quarters. He is abundantly and buoyantly prolific, both on his own and with collaborators of many backgrounds and affiliations. He is at once committed to experimental, avant-garde styles and to a decolonizing, anti-racist, in his words ‘vegan anarchist’ politics. There is a third commitment that nestles aside these two, although less trumpeted: a participation in a lyric tradition and a lyric kind of ‘truth,’ the manifold, irreducible, unformalizable sort of truth Goethe (who would have enjoyed the poems in Insomnia placed in Tübingen) imagined when he spoke of Dichtung und Wahrheit (poetry and truth).
Lisa Lee Herrick is a finalist for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
The illuminating essays in Lisa Lee Herrick’s Endangered Animals describe contemporary Hmong American culture and community with journalistic vigor and a keen sensitivity. With great authority, Herrick interrogates what is lost in personal, ancestral, and cosmic terms when a family leaves the homeland that holds their history, their forebears, their mythologies. Displaying a deeply felt sense for the customs, rituals, and folkways that re-evoke left-behind terrain, she conjures it anew amidst the unfamiliar realities of immigrant life. How do we maintain a diasporic culture? How can we uphold and bolster the spirit in the face of war, migration, and forced adaptation and erasure? These essays of startling range and vision provide new ways of thinking about these essential quandaries of our age.
This excerpt is adapted from an essay originally published by Emergence, which was included in Best American Essays 2021.
Days before California governor Gavin Newsom mandated the statewide stay-at-home order on March 19, 2020, which effectively paused all nonessential economic activity and travel for nearly forty million residents, a Facebook post from a publishing acquaintance popped up in my news feed. His collage of photos and videos were taken, he claimed, during a past trip to China years ago, and they caught my eye because they featured an array of skewers arranged in neat, vertical piles—including grubs and scorpions—heaping piles of brown foods garnished with chopped scallions, and a balding, middle-aged Chinese man, lips pursed, clearly enjoying his meal. Above it, my acquaintance wrote: A few photos/videos from a “live animal market.” Any questions? I held my breath, watching the flurry of gray ellipses begin to dance in the comments.
The ethos of the modern world is defined by immigrants. Their stories have always been an essential component of our cultural consciousness, from Isaac Bashevis Singer to Isabel Allende, from Milan Kundera to Yiyun Li. In novels, short stories, memoirs, and works of journalism, immigrants have shown us what resilience and dedication we’re capable of, and have expanded our sense of what it means to be global citizens. In these times of intense xenophobia, it is more important than ever that these boundary-crossing stories reach the broadest possible audience.
Now in its sixth year, the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing supports the voices of immigrant writers whose works straddle cultural divides, embrace the multicultural makeup of our society, and interrogate questions of identity in a global society. This prize awards $10,000 and publication with Restless Books to a writer who has produced a work that addresses the effects of global migration on identity. This year’s judges, Francisco Cantú, Shuchi Saraswat, and Ilan Stavans, have selected the below four finalists. Click on the links in each section to read excerpts from their books.
Read Excerpts by the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing 2021 Finalists
Natasha Burge is a finalist for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
A strikingly original exploration of autism and psychogeography, Natasha Burge’s Drifts takes us through the souks, caves, and sands of the Arabian Gulf to create a loving and sensorial meditation on place and transcultural identity. In gorgeous poetic prose, Burge probes her unfurling awareness of autism, connecting seemingly tangential thoughts and wanderings with the anchored histories of the Arabian Gulf. The scenic and descriptive power of Burge’s writing is remarkable, bringing to life vivid landscapes, city streets and markets, desert sunsets, and unseen waters flowing beneath the earth.
The following excerpt includes material originally published by The Smart Set.
An editor suggests I write about being an alien. This word I like, with its superabundance of meaning. It reminds me of visa stamps crowding an already full passport, of space shuttles and star dust and loneliness. It rings true.
Ani Gjika is a finalist for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
By Its Right Name is a courageous and profoundly intimate story of recognizing and reclaiming the power of one’s sexuality. Ani Gjika intricately reconstructs her personal history in America, Albania, and beyond, naming traumas that often remain unspoken. By Its Right Name is a different kind of immigrant story, one that demands that we consider the specific, insidious ways that patriarchy controls a woman’s relationship to desire and sex, as well as to her body, mind, and expression. With a poet’s ear, Gjika finds language for confronting patriarchy, misogyny, and the male gaze on the most intimate of terms, ultimately revealing the transformational power of self-discovery through the written word.
Sometimes there’s a father I wish I had. He picks me up at school high-fiving me just as I run out the door into the schoolyard.
“How was it?” he asks. “How’d you do in the exam?”
“I nailed it!” I say, all joy and pride around my father.
“Didn’t I tell you?” he says. “If you put in the work, you can do anything.”
They came at four o’clock in the morning and I was too sleepy to get out of the way in time. They trampled on the big trash bin and planted their heavy boots on the mass of bodies. My hand was crushed under someone’s boot, along with Emad’s arm. I gasped silently. Then someone started lifting my leg, which was stuck under Youssef’s stomach, and then my body too. I clung on to Youssef’s clothes, but the hand lifting me was much too strong for me. I suddenly found my head swinging through the air. I stiffened my neck to try to control it, but it was no use. I couldn’t make out where the voice giving orders was coming from but it was definitely from above.
The rifle is heavy and hard in my arms, the butt jammed up into my right shoulder, just like Lee showed me. Peering down the nose of the gun, I can see the line of targets—coffee cans, plastic milk jugs, and Coke cans—lined up like birds on a fence. The air is cool and wild, and a breeze comes across the hollow carrying the sweet smell of hay and manure. Except for the herd of grazing Holstein cattle, little black-and-white smudges against the browning pastures, Lee and I are the only living creatures visible. Me and him and the gun with real bullets.
For our August round of Friday Reads, we spoke to three alums of The Common’s Literary Publishing Internship. Their recommendations delve into trauma, failure, and purposelessness, but all include notes of hope.
Elizabeth A.I. Powell’s most recent book is Atomizer(LSU Press, 2020). She is a Professor of Creative Writing at North Vermont University. Her poems are forthcoming in The New Republic and American Poetry Review. You can find her at www.elizabethaipowell.com.
The terrestrial assumption is that on any given day you can find humans crying out to the heavens. Elizabeth A.I. Powell is a poet who has “spent a lifetime trying to say the truth in a beautiful way,” and operates on the assumption that we all have celestial cries to process. In this interview, Matt Miller and Elizabeth A.I. Powell explore the invisibility of sexuality, the enactment of fury, and poem as atomizer. Walk through this synesthetic interview and discover how poetry approaches the smell of memory.
Come Angels: An interview with Elizabeth A.I. Powell about her new collection The Atomizer